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Tidying, overwhelm, and the prepared adult
On a rainy spring evening this past April, after the kids were in bed, Nate and I made the decision to put away two sets of much loved play things in long term basement storage. We prepared ourselves for the questions and complaints, but knew it wouldn’t come as a surprise to our kids - the whole family had identified them as a problem with no clear solution in sight.
Travel back to December 21st, 2021 with me. One of our winter (and summer) solstice traditions is to gift the kids something that will bring joy and togetherness to the season. After a year of lockdowns and closures around us and more on the horizon, I thought a set of costumes might inspire adventures; scientists growing plants the moon, fairies and gnomes carving their homes between the roots of tree, or perhaps very simply, a lovely afternoon tea party.
Image: Lake Scene with Fairies and Swans - Set Designs for Drury Lane Theatre by Robert Caney, National Gallery of Art
The year before, we had gifted them a set of play food, dishes and kitchen tools, with the same intention of using their imaginations when the body was restricted to our home. In both cases they were a mix of thrifted, vintage, hand-me down, and repurposed items from the house, enjoyed by all 3 children, but particularly adored by Flora.
We would spend the next 4 months trying different organization solutions for these sets only to find them all over the house most evenings. Beyond that, the emotions brought about by the play over and around these objects seemed overwhelming for our crew. At time time I attributed it up to rolling lockdowns, sibling dynamics, or the developmental stages each were at.
The effects of removing these items from circulation was so immediate that we didn’t examine our decisioning any further. The next day we saw a return to cooperative play, problem solving, self regulation and consideration of others though tidying up play and work spaces. Signal received: the kids had been overwhelmed. Peace and balance had returned to our kingdom.
For a while.
Fast forward to the start of 2023, 4 days into a sickness that is making its way through each of us. Flora asks us if we can bring up the play pretend boxes. Through a stuffy nose and watery eyes I return a reluctant yes, with the condition that it’s a trial.
The next 3 days are domestic chaos.
Like squirrels stashing nuts for the winter season, I find plastic, wood, and fabric play foods in every corner of the house. My late grandmother’s lace glove is hanging off a pencil crayon in our maker space. A child-sized wedding dress with dragon foot slippers are laying beside the toilet. A super hero wardrobe is scattered across our sofa.
Image: Conditional Yes by yours truly for Bueno Market ;)
Those 3 days I trade our sacred parent-child moments at the kitchen table, brushing hair after a bath, and snuggling up for books at bedtime, for tidying up. I reach a limit.
I feel myself longing for the days they were satisfied with silk-scarf-tails and baby-blanket-capes. I start researching theatre programs Flora can join to help reduce the guilt I feel for wanting to eliminate these play pretend items from our home. Just as I find a neighbour’s listing for a children’s theatre program on our community facebook group, I see Flora, poised and glowing in a ball gown, walking out the door with her baby and baby stroller in one arm, and the other wrapped around a picnic basket complete with food, dishes, and cutlery for a feast outdoors.
And then it hits me.
It was never the type of play that came from these items. It wasn’t that my kids couldn’t negotiate a fair solution when they both wanted the same shiny pink cape, or that they intentionally kicked over their sisters carefully curated dinner selection laying out on the living room floor. It was that there was too many items for my children to manage. They simply did not yet have the organization or emotional skills for that volume of items. opportunity I am being presented with, placing myself inside the role of the Montessori prepared adult, is to create an environment they can take care of.
The next chance I have to talk to Flora goes something like this:
Me - “Flora, I would love to see this lovely little kit you’ve put together.”
Flora - “It’s everything me and my baby need.”
Me - “I wonder…if you had these items, would they be enough for you to play with and take care of?”
Flora - “Yes, of course! See, it’s all here."
Me - “Oh, that’s so interesting. Look! It all fits in a lovely little basket. Maybe later on you can check to make sure you have everything you need in your basket, then I can put away the extra items for later. Or, we could share them with some other friends or family.
I know you like taking good care of your special things. Would that be easier for you to take care of?”
Flora - “Yes! Of course!” (a favourite thing of her’s to say…as if this solution was obvious this entire time)
Me - “Great, let’s do that together tomorrow since it’s your day for a house job.”
She nods in agreement before turning to take her play outdoors and I smile at the sprawl in our living room knowing this is just one of many more little puzzles to solve in this parenting journey.
If this essay or others in this series connected with you, felt valuable, nurturing, a good resource, or something you could implement, you are in the right place. If you haven’t already, I’d love to see you join as part this community of families as a free or paid subscriber, and invite your friends to join too.
Thank you for reading Series 2. We’ll be taking a short break and will return in March to kick off Series 3 with a focus on routines. See you then!
This newsletter is called Raise In Place, and is the newsletter companion to Bueno Market - the how-to Montessori company.
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